Mark & Olly: Living With The Tribes, a three-season Travel Show, finds itself in the midst of an international media storm. Two experts separately accuse the program of misrepresenting the Indian Matsigenka tribe it portrayed and of fabricating parts of the film.
In the show, British adventure travelers Mark Anstice and Olly Steeds venture across the world to spend months living with different indigenous tribes. In the 2009 season, the duo traveled to Peru to join the Matsigenka (as the tribe name is now usually spelled), a tribe living in the Amazon jungle. Yet experts claim that the portrait the program created of the group is mostly fake, distorted and misleading.
In the journal Anthropology News and on his blog, Dr. Glenn Shepard explains how the program mistranslated, and gravely misrepresented, key characters of the tribe numerous times. Shepard, who worked with the Matsigenka for 25 years, noticed the program translating a Matsigenka leader saying "I have sex every day," while the man actually said he "will have sex another day." Similarly, the phrase "You come from far away where lots of gringos live” is translated as “We use arrows to kill outsiders who threaten us.” The anthropologist also criticizes the description of a scene in which a women is secluded in a hut with an ill newborn. Mark and Olly suggest she is considering infanticide, while in reality she is observing a traditional rite. Shepard argues: "Such portrayals are false and insulting, leading audience members to comment on the program blog that the Matsigenka are mean and savage people."
Expert Ron Snell also found several grave inaccuracies in the film. He grew up among the Matsigenka and questions the sincerity of the filmmakers. He thinks the Indians must have been paid to perform certain rituals, as they act in ways they would generally never do. Snell claims talks with Matsigenka who participated in the film revealed that the program contracted people to make traditional items, and that the crew must have staged several scenes. "This series is so totally out of whack that it's hard to imagine anyone taking it serious," Snell writes.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, a human rights group, commented on the revelations in a press release, saying, "Mark & Olly: Living with the Machiguenga was a depressing example of the way tribal people are routinely portrayed on TV. One stereotype followed another, with the Machiguenga variously portrayed as callous, perverted, cruel, and savage."
The show was previously discredited because it visited remote Indian villages after being specifically advised not to do so. The visit caused a cold epidemic that killed four villagers.
UPDATE: This piece originally identified the show as a “BBC Travel Show." BBC informed us of the following:
“This programme was acquired by BBCWorldwide from Fremantle Media and was made by Cicada Productions. It was broadcast on our BBC Knowledge channel in Africa and it last aired in November 2010. There are no plans for the programme to be broadcast again on our channels. BBC Worldwide is committed to the highest editorial standards and will examine the claims made. We are concerned by the allegations made and we have asked Fremantle to establish the full facts and update us as a matter of urgency."